Why not Kelly Johnson?
With all the hubbub surrounding the ‘departure’ (technically, he is a free agent) of Robinson Cano, much of the discussion has been about just how the New York Yankees were going to be able to fill the supposed massive hole that has now taken over second base. However, perhaps the team’s approach to should tell us a little something about what they think of the position going forward.
The short of it, I suppose, is that maybe it’s not really as big of a problem as originally thought.
Even in the days before Cano and agent Jay Z went out west to shake hands with the Seattle Mariners on a monumentally-large (but necessary for the M’s) overpay of a contract, the Yankees got busy acquiring the best available bats. Instead of panicking over a hole at second base, they saw the bigger problem with an outfield that had threatened to consist of Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano/Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki.
Well, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, not only did they solve that problem, but also filled their needs on offense in the process.
That’s also to say that the negative impact of having no Cano in the lineup is significantly diminished. He’s still a great defender on the field, of course, but one would imagine that a Beltran-Mark Teixeira–Brian McCann 3-4-5 would work just fine offensively for the team. A big bat — even the best bat — at second base would be a nicety at this point, but hardly a necessity.
This brings us once again to Kelly Johnson, who was acquired on a one-year deal presumably to act as a plan B, but could realistically work just fine as a plan A for 2014. After all, even though his make-good deal with the Tampa Bay Rays saw him put up a mediocre .235/.305/.410 line, he was still a 1.2 fWAR player, which is more than adequate for what his role would be for the Yankees.
The 31-year old isn’t exactly going to be asked to anchor the lineup in the middle of the order. If anything, he’ll likely hit near the bottom of the lineup, the same place that someone like Omar Infante would if the Yankees were to sign him. There, a below-average bat isn’t likely to be as much of a detriment as his power (16 homers over 407 PA in 2013) would be a benefit.
For the measly $2.75-3 million that he’s expected to cost New York, a .715 OPS bat with 20-plus HR power at the bottom of the order is a rare bargain in this lineup; and while his 0.0 dWAR and 3.8 fielding runs below average in 2013 aren’t what Cano is capable of, Johnson is hardly what you’d call a significant defensive liability.
Besides, the Yankees have much bigger things to worry about, no?
Even with the return of Hiroki Kuroda on a reported one-year, $16 million deal, the Bronx Bombers still have their starting rotation to fix. C.C. Sabathia and his continually dipping velocity has to be considered a question mark at this point, and a projected back-end trio of the Ivan Nova (which is the real one, 2013 or 2012?), David Phelps (4.93/1.42 ERA/WHIP as starter) and Michael Pineda (health) are by no means certainties either.
Assuming that the Yankees still have some money to spend on signing a second baseman like Infante, the additional impact he’d bring over Johnson at second would not be nearly as significant as what an arm would contribute. The team will be able to hit with the lineup they have now, but that won’t matter a whole lot if the majority of their rotation can’t be relied on, and that’s not to mention that it would add more stress to the Mariano Rivera-less bullpen.
So, why not use the resources to go after a AL-tested starter like Matt Garza, or get in on the Masahiro Tanaka fray?
By the way that the team is going about making moves, it looks as though they recognize this as well. They might have been left with a just-good-enough option at second with Johnson, and even though he’ll never truly replace what Cano brought to the table (who can?) … a replacement just isn’t much of a need, you know?